((LEGAL STUFF: Link, Zelda, Impa, and the other game-based characters are property and copyrights of Nintendo. No infringement intended. No profit made--these stories are purely for reader enjoyment. The new characters introduced here are mine, purely fictional--do not use them without my permission! Any similarities to events and persons in reality or other peoples' stories are purely coincidental. Thank you for your patience.))

The Legend of Zelda: Journey to the Past
by Becky Tailweaver

Chapter 2: Secrets Long Hidden

When Impa awoke and proceeded downstairs, the rising sun just shining into the valley, the Hero of Time was gone. His shield and equipment still remained, however, so she knew he was not gone for long. She saw to it that Zelda was awake and fed, as per her duty as the princess's sworn protector, then set out to find Link.

Impa found him on the grassy hillside above town, staring across the little valley at the imposing, distant figure of Death Mountain. He sat in the grass looking sad and wistful, and wore neither his Kokirish hat nor his battle gloves. His golden-blond hair shone in the early morning sun. Loose and long, it hung into his eyes and down almost past his neck.

The Sheikah woman sat beside him without a word, content to let him speak first, to see what rested foremost on his mind. For a long time, nothing was said.

Link watched Impa out of the corner of his eye, silently marveling at the difference her change of wardrobe made. In simple peasants' dress, with her hair bound loosely in a braid instead of its usual tight bun, she looked calm and beautiful; not so stern and dangerous.

Impa felt Link's sideways gaze but said nothing, content with her own observations of him. She was pleased at the hero he'd turned out to be. He was strong and sure, swift and good. And she could tell something was hurting him.

"I miss the Forest already," Link began softly. "I didn't have time to be homesick during all those weeks of fighting Ganondorf, but now I really miss Saria."

"She is still in the Forest, and you can still visit her," Impa told him.

"But it's not the same. I can't be one of them any more." Link shifted his gaze to his booted feet. "It seems so quiet, after all the battles I've been through. I've had a lot of time to think this morning; I've been up since before sunrise. Couldn't sleep that long."

"And where have your thoughts wandered?"

"To how cheated I feel."

Impa turned to look at him directly. "Cheated?"

"Look at me. I was ten years old just a few weeks ago, not even supposed to be a warrior yet. But here I am, seventeen, and I've seen and done things no child could--or should. I feel so different from what I was. I never even got a chance to grow up. Just bang--I'm looking down from a man's height and speaking with a man's voice--and the change felt like it took only moments."

"You have been given maturity before your time. I know it can be hard." Impa covered a look of sorrow with sternness. "Just take time to grow into yourself."

Link sighed. "Zelda tried to send me back, to erase all of this, to make it as if it never happened, but...even the Ocarina cannot undo the evil that was done. Rauru told me that I was the one who had to do that--to remake the land. Like the King did." He glanced at her, then back at the mountain. "It's strange. I know that I haven't had time to grow up, but I think I already have in some ways. I think differently. I see things from a new angle. I...feel new ways. Zelda--before, she was just a girl; a friend. Now...I don't understand it..."

Impa looked away to disguise the pained expression on her face. "You were granted maturity in mind and heart before you were granted maturity in knowlege. You are now nearing adulthood. You'll have to deal with new emotions, new needs, and new thoughts."

"Telling me I have to deal with it doesn't make it any easier."

"No. But I think you've begun to adapt already. You're behaving as befits a young man." She smiled tightly as Link seemed to consider that. "See? You'll be fine. There is a world that still needs us, Hero." Impa risked all to place a tentative hand on his shoulder.

For a long time Link was silent. "I wish I'd known I wasn't a Kokiri. At least then I could've understood better when the time came."

"They didn't tell you what you were?" Impa seemed genuinely surprised.

"No. The new Deku Tree told me after I'd defeated Phantom Ganon in the Forest Temple. I'd already guessed something was up after I saw the other Kokiri, but I didn't truly understand 'til then."

Impa took a deep breath, straightening. "There have been enough shadows in this land. It is time, at last, for the truth." She gazed at him. "What do you know about your origins?"

"Almost nothing." Link looked bitter. "The Deku Sprout said that during the wars before the King took control, a woman who was gravely wounded carried her baby into the Forest."

"I knew her," Impa replied, her voice oddly soft.

Link jerked around to face her. "You did? How?"

"I was with the woman that day. Her name was Zalthea, the wife of Sardon, who would one day be King."

Link sat speechless for a second. "The Queen? The Queen is--?"

"No," Impa replied, "for the child she carried with her was not her own."

"Then how--?"

"If you will be silent for a few minutes, I will tell you the tale that the Deku Tree didn't know." Impa settled herself more comfortably. "It was during a battle with a Gerudo contingent, when their flaming arrows started fire to the trees around our soldiers. I was traveling with Lady Zalthea, as per my vow to Lord Sardon, as her protector. We had become deep friends over the weeks during the war, and even our children were born at close to the same time."

Link wanted to question this, but knew all would be answered in time.

"Lord Sardon had been sending his wife to safety in the outskirts of the Forest, along with an honor guard of twenty Hylians. I was my mistress's Sheikah bodyguard. We both carried our children as we rode along the edge of the Forest. The Gerudos, far from their lands and obviously out to destroy Lord Sardon's wife and child, attacked in great numbers." Impa looked in deep pain. "My mistress...my dearest friend... received a mortal wound from a poisoned arrow. Our soldiers fought bravely to the end, and as I tried to bear Zalthea to safety, she made me swear to protect her child as I had her, for she would soon die."

Link gazed intently at her, snatching up every word.

"There was no way my horse could carry both her and I and our children, and be able to escape the Gerudos," Impa continued. "I took Zalthea's child in my arms, and she ordered me to ride as far and as fast as I could, and bear her daughter, Princess Zelda, to safety. Zalthea took my child, as a decoy for the Gerudos, and fled deep into the Forest, drawing them after her." Impa took a deep breath. "I sacrificed my child to save my friend's, painful though the exchange was. And my vow to my mistress extends to her daughter as well."

"I thought my mistress had been taken and destroyed by the Gerudos, along with my child," Impa went on. "But the Forest spirits and the power of the Deku Tree must have protected them. Then, one day, a mere lad, but one with the stealth of a trained expert, made his way past the security of an entire palace to meet with Princess Zelda. The boy had lived among the Kokiri, but was not one of them..."

Link was staring at Impa with wide eyes, now.

Impa gazed back at him, something like sorrow and regret in her eyes. "The child that Zalthea carried into the Forest and laid at the foot of the Deku Tree, who grew up wise in the ways of the woodlands...that child was my son. You, Link."

Link was still trying to assimilate this information, still staring at her. "You...? Sage of Shadow...Impa...you're my mother?"

"Unless you know of some other Hylian child brought to the Kokiri by a dying woman." Impa gave him a rare smile. "I knew it was you--you were no pale, slight Kokiri elf, but a strong young Hylian child. I could see it even more clearly when you returned after seven years. Your height, your build, your smile." She looked him over fondly. "And the stealth with which you move, the smoothness with which you fight, the wiry strength to your every motion...these are traits of the Sheikah."

Link was beginning to lose some of his shock. "If I'm Sheikah...why do I not look like you?"

Impa smiled. "Not every child of the Sheikah is born with red eyes if one parent is not of our sect. The Sheikah are still Hylians, you know, and even though the red eyes are dominant, when paired with a Hylian they do not always show. Your hair, eyes, and complexion come from your father. I am...amazed how much you look like him."

Link started--he had not even thought about his other parent. "My father...who was he? Does he live?"

"I know not if he still lives." Impa looked pained, unusual for a woman of her constitution. "The woman warriors of the Sheikah are not supposed to marry or bear children," she explained. "Only those girls who are betrothed from birth may choose a spouse of our own tribe. I was not one of them, though I was the Sheikah Chief's only daughter."

"Then why was I--?"

"Patience, Link," Impa reminded him. "Though I don't how this tale will affect you..." She took a deep breath. "It was just at the start of the war, when tensions were ripe and hatred was ready to burst. My tribe and I were far to the south along our wanderings, in the border towns beyond Lake Hylia--"

"I thought you were born and raised in Kakariko, not a nomad tribe," Link protested.

"That's what everyone was meant to think," Impa replied patiently. "I had to fit in with the resident Sheikah that were living here. Now hush and let me continue: I was just a young Sheikah, confident in my prowess but not experienced enough. There was a Hylian man; dashing, brave--a prince of rogues, if you will--who befriended me while my tribe stayed there. In my foolishness, I trusted him, and one night I gave in. But when morning came, he was gone. I returned to my father in private disgrace."

Link felt as though an iron grip of shock were squeezing off his breath, even as his heart pounded with dismay that the man had simply left Impa. "That man was my father?"

The Sheikah woman put a hand on his shoulder, still tentative about touching him. "The Sheikah have long been hated and feared in the south for our skills in stealth and combat. I confided in my father, and he sought legal recompense. The magistrate of the town granted me no justice because of his mistrust of Sheikah, and when my father went out to find the man and restore my honor, he had disappeared."

Impa saw how this news was distressing her son, but plunged on, determined to rip away all the cobwebs that had obscured his past for so many years. "When I discovered I was with child, I fled my tribe in shame. I came north, seeking my fortune among the Hylians and the Sheikah immigrants that were already here. Lord Sardon rescued me when I fought, outnumbered, a troop of Gerudo bandits on the road past the desert. Because of his deed, I swore fealty to him and his kin, vowing to serve and protect. So he introduced me to his wife, Zalthea, and bade me be her handmaiden, bodyguard, and friend."

"Zalthea...Zelda's mother." Link still seemed numb.

"Yes. Lord Sardon trusted me to defend his Lady, for though I had been growing heavier with child, I had still held out against the bandits with, as he put it, the courage of a lioness. Their family had long been attended by Sheikah guardians, immigrants from the south who had founded Kakariko, and their last bondsman had died of old age after long years of faithful service. Not long after I had come into their household, it came to be known that Zalthea would have a child of her own." Impa seemed to choke, just the faintest bit. "Zalthea was my most beloved friend...the elder sister I'd always wished for...the mother I'd never known. She cared for me even as I protected her."

"Elder sister?" Link questioned. "How could you consider her your mother? Weren't you two...?"

Impa shook her head. "Link, I was young--no older than you are when you were born. Lady Zalthea and Lord Sardon had been hoping for a child for many years. Zalthea was more than twenty-five when I met her."

Abruptly, Link's perception of her switched--she hadn't been a Sheikah woman in disgrace for an illegitimate child. She had been a frightened, unmarried young girl, with child by a man she thought she'd trusted and ashamed to bring dishonor on her family because of the actions of a stranger.

"How could he have done this to you?" Link managed to grate out over his outrage and sorrow.

"I was foolish, Link," Impa replied. "I trusted a rogue, and was hurt in return. Not that I loved you any less," she said quickly, spotting him pull away. "You were my child, my son, born of my body--how could I not care for you?"

"But you sent me off--perhaps to die--to save Zelda."

The accusation there stung. Impa winced internally. "Wouldn't you have willingly given your life for her?" she retorted softly.

Link looked at her, then nodded, acknowleging having been neatly trapped.

"I had reached Lord Sardon by the morning after the attack, riding all night," Impa explained. "For the first time in my life I was worried over something that was not my sworn duty, but the duty of my heart. I went off on my own and prayed, in tears and distraught, for your life to be spared. Perhaps Zalthea would make it to a town, perhaps some travelers might take pity on her and the babe, perhaps even the Gerudos might take the child as their own. I wanted you to live somehow, so badly that it hurt." There was actually a single tear running down the Sheikah's care-worn cheek. "I've changed a lot since then," she continued. "I dove into my work of protecting my master's daughter and raising her in her mother's stead. I became the hardened warrior that you knew me as." She gazed at him. "I am sorry, Link."

"It...wasn't your fault. You did what you had to do." Link seemed to grow hard. "My father--what was his name?"

"The only name I knew him by," Impa replied, "was Lyon."

For Link to know that his origin was less than honorable, his father not an honest man, was crushing. His mother had been an unwed teenager, his father a deserter. What kind of nobility was that?

Link rose suddenly, the sun now much higher in the sky, glinting off his bright gold hair. Impa stood beside him, reaching for him, a mother's longing suddenly tinging her voice.

"Link, please, don't be angry for what happened," she asked softly. "If you must blame anyone, blame me, for my foolishness..."

"No!" Link stared at the ground. "I'm nothing--nobody--the illegitimate son of a scoundrel--"

"And the Sheikah attendant of the princess." Impa once again put a hand on his shoulder. "Do not think yourself unworthy. Zelda already knows, Link, and it means nothing to her."

"She knows?" Link looked at her, scandalized that the princess knew of the circumstances of his birth, eye to eye, nearly her equal in height.

"I told her everything I knew about you, a few years after you vanished, when we were on the run."

"But...what of others? What would they say if the princess were to consider someone like me?"

"That our princess should consider the Hero of Time a suitable companion is a joy to them. You forget that I am a Sage, Link. I know the hearts of my people."

Link still gazed at her, all the hurt and shock and outrage and disbelief of the past hour's revelations coming to the surface once more. "Impa..." He paused, daring for a moment of moments to say it--that special word--the word that would make it all real. It took a mammoth dose of courage. "Mother..."

Impa had to swallow a sob that threatened her hardened exterior. "My son," she answered. She was secretly overjoyed when he hesitantly took her hand.

"I will find him," Link said, his voice as firm as she'd ever heard. "Lyon will answer to you for the things he did."

Impa shook her head sadly. "Don't go looking for him, Link. The past lies buried, now--let it remain. You might not like what you find."

"Not for you, then, but for me." Link gazed up at Death Mountain. "Perhaps you have forgiven and forgotten. But now that I know...I just need to ask him why."

* * * * *

Zelda was waiting for him at the edge of town. Link, overjoyed to see her, jogged down the slope to take her hand. "Sorry to run off like that," he apologized.

"I don't mind at all," the princess replied, smiling a greeting to Impa. Zelda was dressed in a simple but pretty peasant girl's frock, her elegant dress and sparkling jewels absent, her hair pulled back to a single ponytail. "It seems you and Impa had a lot to talk about."

"That we did, Zelda," Impa said, striding past her towards the house.

Zelda walked beside Link, letting Impa go on ahead. "So, what was it that kept you two up there until nearly noon?"

Link glanced at her, then the ground, then straight ahead. "We talked about the time travel, about the Forest, about me. And Impa told me everything."

Zelda stopped, whirling to him. "You mean you know she's your mother?"

Link nodded. "She told me about myself, and your parents, and the war, and...my father."

Zelda took his hand. "I know that must have been hard."

"I'm going to find him," he promised softly. "No matter what."

"But it's so soon after Ganon. Must you go off on a wild goose chase?"

"Goose chase? More like a Cucco chase."

"I know hearing about your father has made you bitter, but you can't blame a man for the mistakes of his youth." She gave him a pleading look.

"I only want to ask him...why," Link said. "I want to know who he is...or was. And what made him leave Impa like he did. Alone...with me."

Zelda set her jaw. "Well, if you're going, I'm coming with you. I'm not going to let you run off on your own. This time, I'm going along on the adventure."

"Princess, you're not--"

"Must you always think of me as a princess, and a princess only?" she asked with a laugh. "Don't you remember who you thought I was before?"

"Sheik. But--"

"So I'll go as Sheik again. You've forgotten that I was taught by Impa the ways of the Sheikah since I was little. I can hold my own in a fight--and did, many times, during our seven-year exile."

Link still looked doubtful.

"Besides," she went on, "I'm the princess, so what I say goes."

"Well, come on then," Impa's voice cut in. "If we're going to the south, Link, you have a lot of learning to do."

The Hero whirled. "Impa! I didn't know you were--"

"Stealth," Impa explained. "Although much of it comes naturally to you, you'll have to work much harder to fool a Sheikah."

Link looked back and forth between the two women, standing there in the doorway. "All right, I guess. Teach me what I need to know."

To Be Continued...